Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Scraping Off the Wrigley: Beginning of the End for Chicago's Historic Central Manufacturing District?

click images for larger view
If you look closely at the above photograph of a banner promoting Chicago's Central Manufacturing District,  the clock tower pictured has seen better days.  The background is discolored and the hands are missing.  The reality, however, is worse.  The clockface on the opposite side of the tower, shown to the right, is not only discolored, many of the background panels are bashed or missing.  But at least the building is still standing. at lease for now.  Which is more than you can say for this . . .
How much historic architecture can you replace with strip malls before a city loses its identity in a sea of junkspace?  How much can you afford to keep when no one seems to want it?
The Central Manufacturing District is as essential a part of Chicago's history and architectural legacy as the Water Tower, Auditorium Building or City Hall.  Built on a cabbage patch just north of the Union Stockyards in the early years of the 20th century, it was arguably the world's first planned industrial park,  With its hundreds of companies and tens of thousands of employees, it was a key engine in making booming Chicago the “City of the Century”.
That was a long time ago, and now one of the anchors of the once-great CMD is coming down, all but unnoticed, like a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it.  After six years in search of tenants, the sprawling factory complex at 35th and Ashland where, for nearly a century, up to 1,700 workers manufactured the gum that made Wrigley one of the world's most recognized brands, is being pummeled into dust and carted off to the landfill.
The William Wrigley Company was one of the CMD's earliest tenants, and it grew to a block-square complex of buildings totaling 1.3 million square feet.  Making it vanish it without a trace is going to be a big job.  In 2009, Wrigley had hired CB Richard Ellis to sell the property, with an $19 milllion asking price.  Two years later, CBRE's plan for the property had become the universal antidote for all huge abandoned industrial property: high-tech.    In a report in the Gazette, a CBRE spokesman made a brave pitch for the site's advantages - good transportation, close to power and fibre eastments, and reasonable price.

Not reasonable enough, apparently.  A year later, the Wrigley factory complex was sold to Lonbard-based Avgeris and Associates - for $5 million.  Avergis's corporate focus is in the challenging industrial property field, with its website listing over 20 sites in nine different states.  Over half of those properties are in the Chicago area, with over half of the nearly 3 million square feet of space listed on the website as “available”.  Over one half of that vacant space comes from a single facility at 4100 West 76th Street.  Avergis has only one other retail development listed on its website, at California and 47th.   It appears to completely vacant.
The multi-story, multi-building Wrigley complex is an anachronism.  It's not how industrial space is designed and built today, and Avgeris has apparently decided it's crucial to make it all go away, quickly and finally.   On Avgeris webpage for the site, the name “Wrigley” is nowhere to be found.  Nor are any structures mentioned.  The site is identified only as “3535 S. Ashland . . . just over 30 acres,” ready to “build to suit.” Reports are Avgeris is hoping to find financial salvation in that other universal antidote for urban decay: big box retailers and strip malls.  No tenants have been announced or even rumored, so why the rush to destroy?   Avgeris claims the usual, vague “safety” concerns are driving the demolition, but my bet is that not only the buildings but the Wrigley history and identity are seen as liabilities that need to be scrubbed clean from the site to make it financially viable.

Avergis's website lists another property in the CMD,  the four-story, 356,000 square-foot factory building at 3815 South Ashland.  Just a couple blocks south of the Wrigley complex, it's in another world aesthetically.  Built in the 1940's, it has none of fine detailing of the older CMD buildings.  With the demolition of the Ashland viaduct, the raw, now spalling bones of its revealed reinforced concrete frame, inset with matrices of small rectangular windows, is again on full display, its original spare elegance in full derelict retreat.
The demolition of that half-century old viaduct, the Ashland Avenue overpass over Pershing Road, marks another turning point in the CMD.  Completed in 1963, at the end point of CMD's heyday, the overpass was another lingering anachronism, its dark, slumming presence enduring long after its original purpose had evaporated.
Still, the CMD is far from dead.   If you stand on Ashland next to the mostly demolished overpass, you'll see an unending parade of tractor-trailers racing down the street.  (You have to wonder where all this traffic will go if the the proposed Ashland Corridor Bus Rapid Transit project succeeds in appropriating two lanes of roadway.)  There are still any number of going concerns doing business in the historic buildings of the CMD.
The fact remains, however, that there is vastly more supply in the CMD's buildings than there is demand.  This is critically true in the structures created in the second phase of the CMD, along what is now Pershing Road. There is where the tall clock tower was built, next a massive, now-demolished power plant.  Still rising like a mesa along Pershing Road are four massive six-story buildings, with a combined volume of 12.5 million cubic feet.  They were constructed for the mail order operations of Montgomery Ward, but with the outbreak of World War I, over half of the space was commandeered by the U.S. Army to serve as a supply depot.  The Army's presence is still found in the numerous ornamental eagles, both in terra cotta  . . .
. . .  and above the entrances . . .
From 1979 to 2000, the buildings served as headquarters for the Chicago Public Schools.  Then-superintendent Paul Vallas, calling it a “financial sinkhole”,  sold three of the massive Pershing Road structures back to the city for $1.  And then he spent $100 million relocating CPS offices to the former Edison Building at Clark and Adams, buying the structure for $8.2 million and spending another $20 million for renovations.  This year, the CPS announced it would move from that building, which it owns, to rented space at 1 North Dearborn,  which they calculate will somehow produce $60 million over the next 15 years.  The merry-go-around never stops.
I've a system that's fiendishly clever,
Which I learned from a croupier friend,
And I should go on winning forever
But I do seem to lose in the end.
         What's the Use? from Candide, lyrics, John La Touche.
In an “expose” as part of its Broken Bonds series on the City of Chicago's burgeoning municipal debt, the Chicago Tribune made the Pershing Road complex the poster child of “indiscriminate spending”, a “boondongle” sucking up $41 million in bond money for the past nine years.  Pandering to its perceived primary readership of suburbanites in the 1%, the Trib report seemed to suggest that Chicago is already Detroit, inferring that new capital projects such as police and fire stations, libraries,  and saving landmarks to sustain neighborhood character, have not only been far too expensive, but probably shouldn't be done at all.

Before it imploded in its last terms, the administration of Richard M. Daley had made supporting Chicago's industrial base a major priority, but the story of how that all played out is an object lesson in how things really work in clout city.  
Galewood Yards, 1940's, photograph: Jack Delano, Library of Congress
As reported by the Reader's Ben Joravsky and others,  the 65-acre Galewood Yards at 1900 North Central was a mostly abandoned facility far larger than the needs of the surviving tenants Soo Line and Metra.  The Daley administration had a surprisingly resolute vision of using it as an anchor for a “modern state-of-the-art industrial park,” enlisting a firm named CMC Heartland Partners to develop it, and creating the Galewood/Armitage TIF to pump in subsidies.

When CMC pushed to be allowed to switch to residential development, the Daley administration pushed back, and a year later CMC bailed, selling their interest for $6.9 million to Calvin Boender.  Originally Boender talked about how the site "would make an excellent boutique industrial park,” but by 2004, he, too, was pressing for a switch to residential.  After Boender enlisted the help of Alderman Issac Carother's and Congressman Luis Guiterez, the city threw in the towel.  It allowed a part of the site to be rezoned to allow 187 residential units and a 14-screen movie theater.    $5.3 in TIF money went to a local union so it buy a portion of the remaining acreage from Boender for a job training center.  Boender also got over $6 million for selling the land for the cineplex and residences.

At the end of 2012, the Galewood/Armitage TIF had a $23 million balance, but a ongoing paper deficit, as revenues from the TIF were used - not to support industrial development - but to float over $35 million in school construction bonds to fund the $36.5 million Jorge Prieto Math and Science Academy.

In May of 2009, Carothers and Boender were indicted by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald on fraud and bribery charges.  Boender had given Carothers $40,000 in free improvements to his home, plus other perks, in exchange for successfully pushing through the zoning change that allowed Boender, without doing a jot of development, to sell property he had bought at $6.9 million for $11.3 million within just a few short years.

In 2010, Carothers plead guilty.  The next year a jury convicted Boender.  In a secret 2008 interview with the FBI, Mayor Daley “had trouble recalling any controversy surrounding Galewood Yards.”  This elective amnesia seems to have become the Mayor's contemptuous M.O. whenever he's called to testify on the corrupt deals that have now become his administration's legacy. 
Daley's book of (inner) laughter and (outward) forgetting also infected his staff.  When his administration helped create a new, $45,000,000 Wrigley Global Innovation Center on Goose Island with $14 million in city subsidies in 2006, Daley promised not only that the Ashland Avenue factory and its jobs would remain, but that new manufacturing would spill into the spaces vacated by the Innovation Center's opening.  And he would get it in writing.  Then everyone forgot all about it.  Apparently no signature was never obtained because just one month later, Wrigley announced it was closing the Ashland Avenue plant.  600 workers lost their jobs

And so, we're back to the beginning.  The demolition of the Ashland Avenue overpass lets us see unobstructed the proud old factory buildings.  For the first time in half a century, they've been given room to breathe - will they be denied a chance to live?  
Just last January, the former Pullman Coach factory at 37th and Ashland was consumed by a massive fire.  It took months to clear away the debris.  The site is now a vacant dirt pile that stretches farther to the east than you would have imagined.
That's the magic of the CMD.  A building like the  Machinery Warehouse may seem, by its graceful facade, to be a relatively modest structure . . .
. . . until you turn the corner and see that it extends all the way down the block in an uninterrupted, 60,000 square-foot sweep.
Now the Pullman Coach factory site is a yawning gap in the Ashland Avenue streetwall of once proud factory buildings, with their tall towers built to conceal the water tanks that provided protection from fire.  How long can they hold on?  Just up the street, that building 3815 South Ashland recently acquired by Avergis is listed as essentially vacant.  Will it become the next to fall?  Will the streetwall dissolve into a smattering of buildings between surface parking lots, or - just as likely - vanish entirely for a giant strip mall?   That's seems to be Avergis's plan.  The siteplan on their website doesn't just include the Wrigley properties, but extends another block south.  A February, 2013 report by DNAinfoChicago shows a prospective plan that wipes out every building on Ashland almost to 37th, including the eight-story former Larkin Building - three square blocks erased for a big box strip mall with stores in a dozen isolated islands swimming in a sea of 600 parking places.

Last month, mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration announced a task force bringing together the City of Chicago, local alderman, labor and consultants to come up for new uses for the 50+ now-closed Dominick's stores that failed to find a buyer.  Where's the task force for the CMD?  In 2012, Emanuel announced a plan to bring high-speed broadband to the Ravenswood Industrial Corridor.  The CMD already has the benefit of adjacency to the rail right-of-way that served the Stockyards.  Why not use it to help attract high-tech to the CMD with super-speed internet?

The Central Manufacturing District is the ugly duckling of Chicago's lost pride. When you walk among the fine old buildings, when you view the great clock tower from McKinley Park, you can see
what it could become - perhaps not exactly a swan, but more a falcon or a hawk, a workaday bird of no small majesty.  Right now, it's just prey for the vultures.
Just as its buildings contain probably hundreds of millions of dollars worth of embedded energy that is being squandered through neglect and demolition, the Central Manufacturing District is a jewel of a neighborhood waiting to be rediscovered.  An essential part of Chicago's history and architectural legacy, it might easily be discarded unthinkingly, but only at enormous cost.  An infusion of attention and imagination, with the money that follows it, could restore the CMD to being one of Chicago's most valuable assets.

Read More:

Four Buildings and a Funeral - Wrigley: The Architecture that Remains after a Great Company Dies

Outtakes from the Central Manufacturing District.

Aftermath:  Some Say the World Will End in Ice . . .


BW said...

If the site plan ( is real, the adjacent 8-story Larkin building will also be demolished for single-story shops and parking

Lynn Becker said...

Thanks for the great find. I've incorporated the info into the post. Since Avergis has no made announcement of signing any tenants, all we may get in exchange for the loss of the Wrigley structures and former Larkin Building is block after block or dirt-filled empty lots.

Unknown said...
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Ed McDevitt said...

Excellent work, Lynn. Makes me think of the current demolition of the Brach factory on the West Side, visible from the Cicero stop on the
Green Line. I'm sure a lot of people have watched that huge building lose all its windows, get tagged by every gang in the area, and slowly become the eyesore it did become. Observers were probably unanimous in wondering who owns the building, why it was allowed to deteriorate, if it was actually abandoned by whoever owned it. Now we see it slowly falling to the wrecking crane and wonder if it's going to become not a new development of some kind, but a massive West Side empty lot, further emphasizing the depressive ambiance of that part of the city.


MitchellBrown228 said...

I wonder if we could turn these building complexes into little tax havens for the businesses that locate into them. I know something like that might not be too popular in this time of stretched municipal budgets, but I just don't see too many other tools in the box to lure companies to these large spaces. The deal could be structured so that only small companies (say, 500 employees or less) can locate into the complexes. I get this idea from Pike Place Market where no corporation can locate INTO the market. Space is reserved for small business.

Paul Harast said...

Thanks for the information. It's all about money.I worked for Wrigley's on 35th and Ashland for 26&1/2 Years.